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Rising Israel-Palestine conflict: Reactions at McGill and across Montreal

Content Warning: Descriptions of Israel-Palestine conflict, mentions of death, violence and mourning

Montreal’s Israeli and Palestinian communities organized events and rallies during the week of Oct. 8 in reaction to the escalating conflict in Israel and Gaza. The Tribune covered events across the McGill campus and city. 

The Hamas attack on Oct. 7 has killed around 1,200 Israelis according to a spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry. As of Monday, Oct. 16, Israel’s airstrikes in response have killed at least 2,700 Palestinians and injured 9,700, according to Palestinian health officials.   

MCGILL CAMPUS, OCT. 8 Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), and Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies), sent a message to McGill University students and staff acknowledging the rising conflict, expressing condolences, and urging the community to act safely. 

CHANGE.ORG, OCT. 8 — A petition was started under the name “McGill Peace” pressing for the removal and discipline of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR), a Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) club, over its “hateful speech.” The petition came in response to a since-deleted post from SPHR McGill, which read: “Last night, the resistance in Gaza led a heroic attack against the occupation and has taken over 30 hostages.” As of Monday, Oct. 16, the petition had received over 2,700 signatures. 

MCGILL CAMPUS, OCT. 10 Christopher Manfredi, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), condemned SPHR McGill’s social media posts. 

“I have directed the Deputy Provost to inform the SSMU that SPHR’s use of the University’s name is non-compliant with the terms of the [Memorandum of Agreement] and, furthermore, to revoke permission for this club to use the McGill name,” the Provost wrote.

The next day, SPHR McGill responded with a statement alongside other local pro-Palestine groups rejecting Manfredi’s statement and affirming their support for the Palestinian people. 

“We reject the claims by the McGill administration that SPHR McGill’s social media posts ‘celebrate recent acts of terror and violence,’” the Facebook post said. “We are not celebrating violence, we are looking at the prospect of liberation.”

In response to a question about Manfredi’s message, SPHR McGill told The Tribune that “this is not the first time our members and allies have been doxxed and threatened for speaking out.”

“SPHR is appalled by Manfredi’s direct targeting of a McGill student group whose values and demands have remained consistent and are supported by our broader university community,” the group wrote. “SPHR McGill is committed to providing a space for students of all backgrounds to meet and organize in support of Palestine. As long as Israel continues to indiscriminately bomb, killing thousands, we won’t be silenced and we will continue to educate our peers, organize, and reiterate our strong support for Palestinian liberation.”

DORCHESTER SQUARE, OCT. 10 — Some attendees cried and others stood stern as around 200 grieving adults and children gathered at Hillel Montreal’s 8 p.m. candle service.

The smell of burning wicks disseminated through the crowd as folks waited to place pocket-sized candles behind the Sir Wilfrid Laurier monument to mourn their Israeli loved ones from afar. 

Police remained on the corners while a few men waving an Israeli flag watched the perimeters. 

On the edge of the crowd was a middle-aged mother who does not normally come to downtown Montreal.

“I have a brother in Jerusalem,” she said, leaning backward. “I’m worried for him, […] and for everyone.” 

She watched on as the swaying crowd sang hymns and prayers, clapped, waved their phone flashlights in sync, and listened to a handful of speakers voicing community unity. 

One of the speakers included a rabbi, who passionately spoke about 19th- and 20th-century Jewish oppression, citing a number of examples including the Holocaust. 

As the service came to a head, many banded together, hugging their friends, community members, and family. 

(The Tribune)

MCGILL Y-INTERSECTION, OCT. 12 A crowd slowly amassed around Hillel Montreal organizers at the corner of Lower Field on Thursday evening, many bearing the Israeli flag. By 7 p.m., the crowd had grown to over 100 people.

The Tribune spoke to Avishai Infeld, BA’ 23 and Advocacy Coordinator at Hillel Montreal, before the event.

“The way the Jewish community works […], because it’s so tight-knit, and it’s pretty small, […] everyone has family, they have friends in Israel,” Infeld said. “Many people know people who have unfortunately been lost, who are missing, who are taken captive. The most important thing right now, what people are really feeling, is just the need for community and to be together.”

(The Tribune)

As organizers distributed and lit candles, the event began with the recognition of some of the people present, including Deputy Provost Labeau. The rabbi then recited a series of prayers, some in Hebrew and some in English, for the still-growing crowd to repeat. 

Throughout the vigil, speakers denounced Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and grieved those who had died or are missing. Many called for peace and heightened compassion in times of crisis. One speaker led a prayer for members of the Israel Defense Forces. Another speaker read a letter to his family in Israel. As the event wrapped up, the tearful crowd sang “Oseh Shalom”—a call for peace.

(The Tribune)

Kadi Diallo, a first-year law student at McGill, was one of the many attendees who had lost a friend or family member in the conflict.

“I came because a close friend of mine was killed at the rave,” Diallo said after the vigil. “He was doing security when Hamas attacked, and I just wanted to show solidarity with the Jewish people, but specifically try to mourn what happened.”

David Ivanchikov, a Concordia student, echoed the sentiment about the importance of community and spoke about the “polarization and fear” that abounds.

“It’s really easy to get sucked into these cycles,” Ivanchikov said. “But, at the end of the day, we’re only feeding into the negative cycles if we allow ourselves to get sucked into that.”

MCGILL RODDICK GATES, OCT. 13 — On Friday morning, the phrases “YOU ARE WITNESSING GENOCIDE AGAINST PALESTINE” and “MCGILL IS OKAY WITH GENOCIDE” were written on the pillars of the Roddick Gates. The writing was removed by the afternoon.  

(The Tribune)

NORMAN BETHUNE SQUARE, Oct. 13 — The Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) called a press conference under the marble statue of the square’s namesake at 4 p.m. on Friday, where an audience of ten or so journalists huddled in a tight circle. 

PYM representative Sarah Shamy, BA ‘21, demanded that the Canadian government condemn the hate crimes towards Arab and Muslim communities, citing a specific incident of a Montreal woman verbally assaulting a woman with a Palestinian flag on her car. Shamy added that more preventative measures need to be put in place and an official condemnation of hate crimes toward the Arab and Muslim communities is necessary.

“As we speak, Israel has cut off food, water aid, electricity and fuel from the Gaza Strip [….] Canada is green-lighting this genocidal campaign by providing Israel with diplomatic cover and material support,” Shamy said. “Canada has made it clear to its citizens that they do not care about the Arab and Muslim communities despite having a sizable population of both.”

Shamy also spoke in support of SPHR McGill and criticized the McGill administration’s response to the organization after the conference in an interview with The Tribune.

“The work that the [SPHR] students are doing there is really important,” Shamy said. “McGill has done things like threatening to defund the Student Union [SSMU] before [like] in 2021 when the [Palestine] Solidarity Policy passed with 71 per cent [of the vote].”

(The Tribune)

Criminal litigation attorney John Philpot also spoke at the press conference, echoing Shamy’s criticisms of the Canadian government for not providing greater support to Palestinians in Gaza. 

“When people are fighting for their freedom, after years of being slaughtered, massacred, losing their children––it is not tidy,” Philpot said. “It’s not a calm process. It’s a revolution.”

A number of interruptions occurred throughout the conference, with media and non-media attendees speaking out of turn and expressing their opposition to Shamy and Philpot’s words.

As the conference concluded, media members dispersed and supporters gathered in the square to prepare for the subsequent protest, organized by the PYM, SPHR McGill, and SPHR Concordia, at the Guy-Concordia Metro. 

GUY-CONCORDIA METRO, OCT. 13 —  The bellowing “So-so-so, solidarité, avec-avec, avec la Palestine” chants from pro-Palestine protesters echoed across downtown Montreal. 

Attendees assembled around a black-painted truck, strapped with some half-a-dozen concert-sized speakers and parked outside the Tim Hortons, at the All Out for Gaza protest. 

Palestinian flags waved and a sea of signs with slogans like “Resistance until liberation!” and “End the siege on Gaza now!” moved up and down as a group of organizers, wearing keffiyehs, circled around the black truck, initiated the chants, and directed the crowd. 

Dozens of people quickly turned to hundreds as the clock hit 5:30 p.m., with supporters overflowing off the sidewalks onto the Concordia-metro junction. By 6 p.m., the hundreds had turned to thousands. 

“What do we want?” one of the speakers cried out. “Justice!” roared the crowd. Followed immediately by, “When do we want it?” “Now!”

“I’m here to show support for the people of Palestine,” a young woman who wished to stay unnamed told The Tribune. “In the upcoming days, we can expect a lot of tragedy,” she said. 

(The Tribune)

As the truck maneuvered from outside the Tim Hortons to down in-between Rue Guy and Rue de Maisonneuve, the speakers reminded the crowd to remain peaceful and to stay behind the truck, which would slowly lead them. The crowd followed suit. 

Yellow-vested organizers dotted the sidewalks and the perimeter, ushering the crowd together. Bike-mounted police followed from behind—keeping some 50 metres back for the majority of the march.

“What I think is that there is too much injustice. It’s unfair. It’s unfair,” a woman, who did not want to be named, told The Tribune

The protest began to pick up pace as it moved along from downtown to Atwater—and toward the Consulate General of Israel in Westmount. 

Thousands moved through the streets as passersby and residents in apartment blocks watched on. 

Approaching the towering glass Israeli consulate on the corner of Av. Wood and De Maisonneuve, the crowd ushered around to the main steps of the building where they faced a line of riot police wearing helmets and armour guarding it. 

(The Tribune)

And so the chanting continued until the protest wrapped up at 8:30 p.m. Flares and sparks turned heads as a drone with flashing Palestinian colours flew overhead. One of the men bearing the megaphone touched on the Palestinian lives lost and calmly and assertively implored everyone to stand together—now and in the weeks to come.


For faculty and staff:  

For students:  

  • The Student Wellness Hub offers counselling services for students located in Montreal.  
  • Keep.MeSafe is a service accessible 24/7 whenever you need to speak (or text) with a mental health professional for support. You can access Keep.MeSafe from anywhere in the world.

This piece was updated at 11 p.m. on Nov. 13 to fix a capitalization error and to revise the estimated Israeli death toll. On Nov. 10, Israel lowered its estimated death toll following the Oct. 7 attack from 1,400 people to 1,200. 

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